Legislative Update: The clock is ticking, as both the legislature and agencies set new rules

We are quickly approaching the halfway point in the 120-day legislative session (March 9), with 446 bills introduced and many more anticipated. Several themes are evident regarding the majority caucus’ agenda for the session including Worker Protection, Housing Availability and Affordability, Healthcare, Property Tax, Crime and Criminal Justice, Energy, and Environment. And, with one hundred legislators (32 of whom are new to the legislature), there is ample opportunity for all of these issues to be the subject of multiple bills—never mind the five-bill limit per legislator (rapidly becoming more the exception than the rule).

Worker’s rights bills have carried over from previous years, including newly introduced legislation that (among other things) eliminates the ability for an employment agency to assert that the individual’s disability has a significant impact on the job as a rationale for refusing to refer an individual to a position for which the individual is otherwise qualified. It also adds a new definition of “harass” or “harassment” and repeals the current definition of “harass” that requires creation of a hostile work environment and eliminates the requirement that conduct be severe or pervasive to constitute harassment (SB 23-172). Other bills include a prohibition on requiring age-related information on an initial job application (SB 23-058), a requirement that employers notify employees of Earned Income Tax Credit assistance (HB 23-1006), another equal-pay bill (SB 23-105), an expansion of workers compensation (HB 23-1076), and a dependent allowance for those receiving unemployment (HB 23-1078). The Fair Workweek Bill 9HB 23-1118) that required certain industries to publish a schedule two weeks in advance and punished employers who deviated from that schedule was killed in committee following a huge outcry from the restaurant industry and concerns from other industries who heeded proponents’ statements that they would like to expand the requirements more broadly.

Continuing public complaints concerning high energy costs for electricity and gas led to the creation of the Select Committee on Rising Utility Rates, which holds it first meeting on March 8 and a second meeting scheduled for March 14 at the Capitol. Nuclear energy is once again a topic of conversation, although initial efforts remain focused on a study.

Growing concerns about the effect of large property tax assessments on residential property (which translates to unhappy voters) has brought a handful of bills to blunt the effect of the increase—two deal with exemptions for disabled veterans and developers of affordable housing (HCR 23-1002 and HB 23-1184). The others are broader measures; HB 23-1054, which changes the valuation date and temporarily caps the amount of increase, is scheduled for a committee hearing March 9, while SB 23-108 that authorizes local governments to offer temporary relief in the form of credits has passed the first chamber. More will likely be introduced; the Governor has talked about the need for property tax relief but as yet has not released his own proposal.

The environment and climate change remain high on the list of legislative priorities. A broad carbon management bill (23-1210) directs the Colorado Energy Office to contract with a qualified organization to develop a carbon management roadmap and requires the contractor to submit it to the Energy Office for feedback by September 1, 2024. In a separate effort, the Governor directed the Oil and Gas Conservation Commission to develop legislative recommendations to establish a framework for carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS) in Colorado, including state primacy to regulate Class VI injection wells. That report could result in several individual bills, or in a single omnibus bill.

CMA is awaiting introduction of legislation and additional detail on numerous air quality bills currently in development. One, sponsored by Rep. Bacon, will focus on air quality permitting requirements. Two others are reportedly under development by Sen. Winter to deal with the State Implementation Plan for ozone compliance and force more aggressive goals for meeting GHG targets.

On the water side, bills include a measure to address how TMDLs are developed and applied in identification of impaired waters under 303 (d) of the Clean Water Act (HB 23-1221). Still on the “to be introduced” list is a bill to remove water quality permit fees from statute, directing them to be set by Water Quality Control Commission regulation. The bill will also include a two-year increase in fees pending adoption of future new fee regulations.

The Air Quality Control Commission continues its work on the GEMM Phase 2 rulemaking with a draft rule anticipated March 6. The rulemaking results from a 2019 statute requiring a 50% economy-wide reduction in GHG emissions by 2030 with additional requirements under 2021 Environmental Justice laws. The current rulemaking will affect about 18 companies identified as having the highest GHG emissions, including Natural Soda and American Gypsum on the Western Slope as well as public facilities like Colorado State University and Denver International Airport. CDPHE staff noted that the rule is expected to meet the Environmental Justice 20% reduction mandate by 2030, but they could look at additional actions should it be necessary. In order to determine the reductions, the Division will look at the type of facility, its pollution levels now and in the past, and how close those facilities are located to Disproportionately Impacted Communities. Of particular concern is how this rule is being couched in terms of Environmental Justice as the definition of Disproportionately Impacted Communities undergoes refinement. A concern for areas with targeted facilities is that the rule does not currently have a path forward for new facilities to locate and comply with emissions limits in those areas. The Air Division anticipates presenting a request for rulemaking at its May meeting with a rulemaking hearing in September.

The Air Quality Control Commission will hold a rulemaking hearing to consider establishing a new Regulation Number 28 to address greenhouse gas emissions attributable to buildings 50,000 square feet or more to include building performance standards for covered buildings, performance standards waivers and extensions, and data benchmarking and reporting requirements. These requirements have been developed in response to House Bill 19-1261 and House Bill 21-1286 which require the Air Quality Control Commission to promulgate regulations on or before June 1, 2023. A rulemaking hearing is scheduled for May 16.